Don and Cheryl Henderson
A Gift from the Heart
EAST TENNESSEE NATIVES Don and Cheryl Henderson shared a common alma mater in the Haslam College of Business. Don (HCB, ’74) studied transportation while Cheryl (HCB, ’83) majored in finance. “Although we weren’t in school at the same time, we both fell in love with the campus,” Cheryl says. “Our first date was at a UT football game.” Don spent a decade working for Coca-Cola, moving from St. Louis, Missouri, to Chicago and on to Dallas, before East Tennessee called him home. “He left Coca-Cola so he could attend UT home football games,” Cheryl recalls with a laugh. “That was one of the deciding factors for him.”
In 1986, Don joined House-Hasson Hardware Company in Knoxville as transportation manager. “With his analytical mind, he made an excellent manager,” says Luke Johnson, a lifelong friend. “He knew how to motivate people.”
Cheryl worked in accounting for several local companies before joining the Knoxville Utilities Board in 1999, where she currently serves as a business management associate in accounting. Over the years, the Hendersons faithfully attended UT football and basketball games. “We always felt like part of the university,” Cheryl says. “I went to other colleges, but my heart was still with UT and it always will be.”
While on a business trip in 2012, Don was in a serious car accident that left him with paraplegia. For the next four and a half years, he remained in a nursing facility. During that time, Don brought up his desire to create a scholarship at the Haslam College of Business.
It wasn’t a new idea. For years, Don and Cheryl had discussed the possibility of starting a scholarship, but they thought it was a goal beyond their reach. “Usually when you hear about a gift to the college, it’s a large sum in excess of $1 million,” Cheryl says. “We didn’t have that kind of money.”
But as Don expressed his wish to leave a legacy for future students, Cheryl promised to check into the possibility. She called the Office of Advancement and found that they could create a scholarship with their gift amount of $25,000. “I was very surprised and happy,” Cheryl says. “We didn’t realize we could make a difference with that amount.”
As undergraduate students, Don and Cheryl both benefited from scholarships, and Cheryl says that memory was part of their motivation for giving back. “Because we both came from a situation in life where $1,500 would have helped us out tremendously, we realized that amount matters when someone is struggling to get through school,” she says. “Our education was instrumental to our success, and we want to give that gift to others.”
Don passed away in 2016, glad to know his wish was coming true. This fall, the Donald Ralph Henderson Memorial Scholarship will award its first recipient. The scholarship is earmarked for students in either supply chain management or accounting, and prioritizes graduates of South Doyle High School, which Don attended.
“Don always said that when he passed away, he wanted to leave a legacy to the university,” says Vicky Mantooth, who worked with Don at House-Hasson Hardware Company for more than two decades. “He was so proud of that.”